It was nearly noon when Lan Qiren looked up from his desk at the front of the Lanshi.
After the Sunshot campaign, this room had been built to look exactly like its predecessor. But the new group of visiting disciples that filed in every morning to listen to lectures or take exams was not quite the same.
Only roughly half of the desks were filled, but it was still more than he expected, so soon after the war.
Whether it was because parents held their children back to rebuild, or if it was because the children who would've sat here were no longer of this world, he did not know.
The students who did come were considerably more grim, quiet, and obedient than the ones he'd seen before.
Lan Qiren, who had made his name on being able to stamp out high animal spirits from almost every student who'd been sent to him, was somewhat at a loss now that his job had been completed for him.
Most of his students had finished their memorization test on the last six generations of the Jin family and were waiting quietly for him to collect their papers.
He nodded to the Lan sect disciple standing to his left, who then silently collected the papers.
"Dismissed," he said, and the room was empty in a flash.
"Lan-xiansheng, will you be using your noon meal now?" the disciple placed the papers in a neat stack on his desk and asked.
"Mm, in a bit. I have some business to take care of first. Deliver these to Wangji. He should be back later tonight."
He nodded and scurried off to obey.
Lan Qiren sighed and stood up, taking care to straighten the rows of desks in the now empty room before making his way to the kitchens.
The Lan sect's kitchens were full of servants busily preparing the noon meal, none of whom looked askance at him when he appeared with a basket on his arm.
Well, that was to be expected.
Firstly, the Lan sect prided itself on correct behavior of everyone who lived inside Cloud Recesses.
Secondly, this was something he had to do whenever his nephew was absent, and Lan Wangji was absent quite often nowadays.
His nephew had developed quite the reputation of always being where help was needed, no matter how trivial the task.
Naturally, Lan Qiren was very proud of him, just as he was proud of his elder nephew for becoming a fine sect leader.
But he also suspected there was something else.
Lan Wangji was famously stoic and expressionless, but his uncle, who'd raised him since infancy, could tell that something worried him.
Watching that burden of worry grow heavier by the day, Lan Qiren was also at a loss on what to do.
For all their emphasis on correct behavior and morals, the Lan sect had yet to perfect the art of communication between family members. His brother had certainly not talked to him about his worries over twenty years ago, and his brother's son now seemed equally disinclined to talk.
Lan Qiren sighed and placed a few leafy vegetables inside his basket and made his way towards a grassy plain near the mountain's entrance.
There, amid the tender shoots of newly grown springtime grass, two white bundles came bounding towards him as soon as they saw him.
A few years ago, Lan Xichen had once asked him if he would not prefer to assign this task to one of the disciples or servants, but he had immediately rejected the idea.
He was the one who'd agreed, in a moment of weakness, to let Lan Wangji keep these rabbits, so naturally he could not foist such a... frivolous task on someone else. It was his responsibility, his duty to take care of them when his nephew could not.
As he leaned over and watched the rabbits climb into the basket for their meal, a small part of him wondered if it was also because he wanted to help his nephew shoulder some of his burden, no matter how trivial the matter.
Lan Qiren was seated in his study, about to grade a stack of night hunt homework, when he heard a scratching at the door.
He sighed when he opened the door and saw what was waiting for him on the doorstep.
The rabbits had followed him back to his study again.
"Renyi, Zhongyi, go back," he said, pointing in the opposite direction.
They ignored him and scurried inside.
Well, naturally they would not listen to him, for those were not their real names.
Lan Qiren had made an effort to learn what their names were, but both his nephews always made an equally strong effort to change the topic of conversation whenever he brought it up.
So he had come up with his own names for the pair, very proper names that they adamantly refused to answer to.
He watched as Zhongyi ran around him and started pawing at his legs, wanting to be carried.
Then he also watched as Renyi started to panic when he picked up the other rabbit, leaving him alone on the floor.
In the end, he carried both rabbits over to his desk and placed them inside their currently unused food basket.
But any hopes that they would behave and let him grade homework in peace were quickly dashed.
Zhongyi peeked his head out to see what he was doing, then climbed out and started to run around on his desk, as if demanding his attention. Renyi also stood up to peek out of the basket to see what the other rabbit was doing.
Fearful that Renyi would also join in and turn his desk into a complete mess, Lan Qiren pointed at Zhongyi and said, "If you continue to misbehave, then copy the sect rules ten times."
It was only after he said it that he realized how strange it was to say such a thing to a rabbit.
But he was even more surprised when the rabbit froze and then dove back into the basket to hide behind his companion. And if he wasn't mistaken, was Renyi actually glaring at him?
Lan Qiren shook his head and decided he must be imagining things.
Still, a small smile of satisfaction crept onto his lips as he enjoyed the peace and quiet and started grading homework.